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Bruce Home-Douglas

 

 

Bruce Leslie Home Douglas-Mann (23 June 1927 – 27 July 2000) was a British politician. He was a Labour MP who, on joining the SDP, alarmed its leaders by his insistence on submitting himself to a by-election, which he lost.

Bruce Douglas-Mann was born at Bexhill, Sussex, on June 27 1927, the son of another solicitor, Leslie John Douglas-Mann, MC. He served in the Navy before going up to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1948. He qualified as a solicitor in 1954. Elected a Labour councillor in north Kensington, he strove to protect tenants, many of them immigrants, from the ruthless evictions then rife in the area. He also became active in the Society of Labour Lawyers, which he would chair from 1974 to 1980.

After two unsuccessful attempts to stand for Parliament, at St Albans in 1964 and Maldon in 1966, he won North Kensington for Labour at the general election of 1970. In the Commons he continued to defend the rights of tenants, and to stand up for the underdog wherever he saw injustice. In 1971 he called the plight of refugees in East Bengal "the worst tragedy the world had known", and the next year protested that to return Asians to Idi Amin's Uganda would be "like sending Jews back to Hitler in the 1930s".

He was Labour MP for Merton, Mitcham and Morden when, in 1981, he announced his intention of joining the newly formed Social Democratic Party. His decision, though, to submit his change of allegiance to the test of a by-election caused consternation among the leaders of the SDP. This was undeniably a highly principled stand; yet neither David Owen nor Bill Rodgers had acted in the same manner when they left the Labour Party. There was therefore much huffing and puffing at the top of the SDP, and complaints that Douglas-Mann was indulging his conscience at the expense of his new party.

Douglas-Mann, for his part, desperately attempted to distinguish his position from that of Rodgers and Owen. He pointed out that he had given his local Labour association a specific guarantee that, should he leave the party, he would submit himself to a by-election. He had also, he observed, changed his position on Europe; having formerly been sceptical of the Common Market, he had now decided that the Labour Party's policy of withdrawal would be disastrous.

The SDP leadership remained unimpressed, and when the party in Merton, Mitcham and Morden chose Douglas-Mann as its candidate, it was smartly informed by the national office that it had no authority to have done so. There were rumours that that the seat had been marked down as an opportunity for one of David Owen's protégés.

It was further made clear to Douglas-Mann that he would have to raise his own funds for the by-election, though this position was somewhat softened when the campaign began. The poll, however, took place early in June 1982, when Mrs Thatcher was on the point of triumph in the Falklands. Douglas-Mann went down by more than 4,000 votes to the Tory, Angela Rumbold - the first time since 1960 that a governing party had gained a seat in a by-election.

Douglas-Mann had to be content with a leader in The Daily Telegraph praising his conduct as a rare instance of honour in politics. His eclipse was completed when he was relegated to third place at Merton in the general election of 1983.

In 1974 boundary changes involved the extinction of the North Kensington constituency. Douglas-Mann, however, was elected for the Labour marginal at Merton, Mitcham and Morden. By that time he was already complaining that the public had lost confidence in both Tories and Labour. In 1976 he suggested that the Labour government had obtained a narrow victory on a vote in the Commons by cheating on a pairing arrangement, and the next year he condemned the intimidatory activities of the pickets at Grunwick as a threat to freedom. "Get over there," yelled infuriated Labour Left-wingers, pointing at the Conservative benches.

Bruce Douglas-Mann married, 6 May 1955, Helen, daughter of Edwin Tucker; they had a son and a daughter.

 

 



 

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